In Their Own Words

S2 E4 | CLIP

Faith in Redemption

After losing his first election campaign for Georgia governor, Carter sets out on two Baptist missions to rekindle his relationship with his faith. Realizing his potential to still serve as a politician, Carter runs again for governor, this time winning. However, what Carter announces at his inauguration leaves his constituents shocked.

AIRED: September 28, 2021 | 0:04:54

- In 1966, he ran for governor of Georgia,

and he ran as a kind of a moderate Democrat.

- This was very much a part of his Christian faith,

of his moral and ethical code.

- I'm not gonna integrate.

(crowd laughing)

(crowd cheering)

- He lost to a segregationist, Lester Maddox.

- This is a great victory for the people of Georgia.

- And at that point, Carter was depressed

and he had something of a crisis of faith.

In 1968, he went on two different Baptist missions

in the North and he went door-to-door

as a Christian missionary.

At one point, he even came upon a brothel

and he tried to convert the madam to Christ.

He learned a lot about himself, his faith deepened,

and he concluded that his mission from God

was to be the best politician that he could be.

You know, at one point, Carter said to me,

"I had a choice. I could denounce segregationists

or I could be governor of Georgia."

And he chose the latter.

- [Woman] So, now it's the end of the '60s.

The Carters' fourth child, Amy, was born,

and Jimmy found himself re-energized

and ready to run for governor

one more time.

(energetic music)

- I'm Jimmy Carter.

- Well, yes, I recognize you.

- Thank you, good to see you. Tell me your name.

- Charlie Staten.

- When he ran for governor the second time,

he needed to get conservative whites.

- He was running as a ultra-conservative

on a somewhat redneck, racist platform.

- He had to be very careful running for governor,

not to offend conservative whites

at the same time as he had that balancing act.

- Campaign aids say Jimmy Carter

has not had his schedule tighter than today's schedule

this entire campaign.

- But behind the scenes, Carter was telling a lot

of his anti-racist supporters,

"You're not gonna like a lot of what you hear me say.

I promise you're gonna love what I do as a governor."

- And then, when he was finally elected,

it was like liberating him.

(crowd applauding)

- Well, I think at this point,

the vote looks very favorable to us.

(crowd cheering and clapping)

At the end of a long campaign,

I believe I know our people of this state

as well as anyone could.

I say to you quite frankly,

time for racial discrimination is over.

(crowd members gasping)

- He announced to gasps in the crowd.

- Shocked his racist supporters.

- People had implicit expectations about

how they thought that Carter was going to govern.

So when he makes this pronouncement at his inauguration,

some people may have thought that that

was a bit of a bait and switch.

- His white supporters walked out

of the inaugural celebration.

They felt betrayed by Carter.

Black Georgians who were in attendance,

they turned to each other and they said, "He said what?"

- It meant a whole lot.

For him to make a statement like that,

let's me know what kind of person he is.

Let's me know that I can trust him.

- My grandfather grew up knowing

racial discrimination was wrong,

but feeling powerless in some ways

to change the entire system.

But the first taste he got of real power,

he began the process.

- He becomes a very progressive governor.

- [Man] He put Martin Luther King's picture

up in the state capitol.

- [Woman] The Klu Klux Klan comes to protest.

- In white sheets, marched and whooped and hollered outside.

So I looked at him and thought,

well this is not that kind of southerner.

- He appointed Black judges for the first time.

He hired African Americans for his office.

Basically integrated Georgia government.

He has a reputation as being somebody

who connects to the Black community.

- Frankly, none of us realized at the time

that he had his eye on higher sites.

That is, the presidency.